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Thursday, February 03, 2000

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HOTEL CASE VERDICT: AIADMK volunteers go berserk

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, FEB. 2. A savage case of arson, incidents of picketing and stoning of buses, besides road roko by AIADMK partymen and volunteers marked the widespread protests in the State following the Special Court order sentencing the AIADMK general secretary, Ms. Jayalalitha, to a year's RI in the Pleasant Stay hotel case.

Even as violent incidents were sparked off, including in Chennai, soon after the judgement was pronounced, the first deaths were reported from Dharmapuri when AIADMK men, condemning the sentence, set fire to a college bus carrying girl students of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) at Ilakiyampatti on the outskirts of Dharmapuri.

At least six State Transport Corporation buses were gutted, three each in Dharmapuri and Perambalur districts, 54 others damaged in stone throwing in different parts of the State and over 1000 persons arrested in connection with the violent incidents. State- run buses were suspended after 8 p.m.

Tension escalated near Dharmapuri this evening with unrelenting TNAU students refusing to allow the removal of the bodies of the three girl students who were charred to death in the bus burning by the AIADMK men earlier in the day.

The situation went out of control as the district Collector, Mr. M. Saikumar's plea went unheeded. The agitated students attempted to manhandle the Collector and broke the windshield of his car after which police at one stage fired in the air to disperse the students and removed the bodies to the hospital.

Conveying his condolence to the families of the three women students, the Chief Minister, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, announced a solatium of Rs.2 lakhs to each of the affected families. Accusing the AIADMK partymen of having indulged in violent acts, he warned that severe action would be taken against those resorting to arson and stone throwing.

Mr. Karunanidhi also pointed out that the amendment effected to the Tamil Nadu Public Properties (Prevention of destruction and loss) Act, under the previous AIADMK regime, required that the leader of the political party concerned should compensate the damage caused by the cadres to public property.

Reports from the districts said normal life was disrupted for quite a while in many of the urban and semi-urban areas in the wake of rasta roko and stoning of buses by irate AIADMK partymen. At Karur and in two places in Perambalur some AIADMK cadres burnt effigies of Mr. Karunanidhi even as police foiled a similar attempt near the Periyar bus stand at Madurai.

While in Perambalur, former AIADMK MP, Mr. Rajarathinam, was among those arrested, police picked up another of its former MP, Mr. Rajam Chellappa, at Madurai. In Chennai, AIADMK MP from Gobichettipalayam, Mr. K. K. Kaliappan, former State Minister, Mr. Jayakumar and former MLAs, Mrs. Sakkubai and Mrs. Valarmathi were among those taken into custody.

Road-blocks, picketing and damage to buses were reported from among other places, Madurai city, Thirumangalam on Madurai- Kanyakumari National Highway, Vridhachalam, Tirupattur, Sivagangai, Manamadurai, Chinnamanur in Theni district, Tiruchi city, Karur, Jayamkondam, Ariyalur, Andimadam, Vellore, Tirunelveli, Palayamkottai, Tenkasi, Nanguneri, Vasudevanallur, Sivagiri, Kadyanallur, Sankarankoil, Nagerkoil, at 10 places in Thanjavur district, including Kumbakonam and in Erode.

As the reaction to the court's verdict unfolded in Chennai, AIADMK partymen, according to police, who blocked traffic near the Beach railway station, also damaged buses passing in the vicinity. Police lathi charged to disperse the crowd in which scores of AIADMK members suffered injuries. Hundreds of party workers who had gathered near the AIADMK headquarters were also chased away by the police when they attempted to block traffic. Totally 317 persons were arrested in Chennai and 23 MTC buses damaged in the city and its outskirts.

In several places including Tiruchi, Karur and Salem, shops and business establishments down shutters, even as some of the educational institutions in Tiruchi and Karur closed the schools in the afternoon. The State Director General of Police, Mr. F.C. Sharma, told reporters in Chennai this evening that among those arrested in Tiruchi included the Jayalalitha Peravai State Secretary, Mr. Elavarasan, and former MLAs, Mr. Sivapathy and Mr. Prince Thangavel.

Dwelling at some length on the Dharmapuri arson incident, Mr. Sharma said on receipt of information police and fire service rushed to the spot. By then, about 40 students had managed themselves to safety but the three young girls studying in the second year B.Sc. (Agri) were trapped inside the bus and perished in the inferno.

Mr. Sharma said a case of murder and damage to property has been registered, while special teams had been sent to apprehend the arsonists. Meanwhile, the DGP said two persons had already been picked up in connection with the incident. Based on eyewitness accounts, an FIR was filed in which 15 persons including an AIADMK functionary, Mr. D.K. Rajendran had been cited as accused.

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